— They will stage the BCS Championship Game on Jan. 7 at Pasadena, Calif., a spectacular setting to determine the nation’s No. 1 team.
But it will mostly be for show.
Let’s not kid ourselves. The real national championship game is Saturday at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome, when the No. 1-ranked Florida Gators (12-0) meet the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide (12-0) to decide the SEC title.
This isn’t meant as a slap against Texas, which is also working to get lucky victory No. 13. We don’t mean to slam the nation’s unbeaten darlings: TCU, Cincinnati or Boise State.
It’s just a fact.
There’s the top level (Florida-Alabama). Then there is everyone else.
If the BCS system wasn’t in place — if we were simply matching the two best teams without conference and bowl game entanglements — the national title game would be simple.
Florida vs. Alabama.
Here are three reasons why the SEC title game should be much more intriguing than the BCS title game.
Florida, the defending national champion, has a 22-game winning streak. Even before the season, as reporters tried to frame the Gators in a historical sense with other programs that tried to repeat, Florida coach Urban Meyer constantly reminded everyone of the priority.
“Our goal is getting to Atlanta.’’
And now the Gators have made it.
“It is almost a relief that we’re here,’’ Meyer said. “The expectation level, it felt like it was on you the whole year. With No. 1 vs. No. 2, college football wants this game.
“I’ve been hearing it a long time, trying to ignore it, trying to push it back. The players have been doing that, too. There’s all this talk about (a potential meeting between Florida and Alabama) and it’s week five, six, seven, eight. The focus has been tremendous. Now it’s here and you can just say, ‘Hey, let’s go play.’ ”
Last season, Florida took an early loss against Ole Miss and spent the entire season climbing a mountain, knowing that one false step would foil any hopes of a national title. This season, the Gators have known that anything short of a 50-6 victory (against almost anyone) would be greeted with, “What happened, guys?’’ So the dynamics have been completely different.
So far, the results are the same.
Alabama, winners of 24 consecutive regular-season games, has worked with similar emotions.
“I don’t know if it was more difficult than last year, but last year’s team, from the outset, really wanted to prove something,’’ Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “There was a built-in motivation. This year’s team knew it wanted to be good each week, to play at its best, and it was important for them to do that. It wasn’t like there was an external factor of trying to prove something to somebody.
“The goal is to be a champion. I didn’t say ‘Win a championship.’ I said, ‘To be a champion.’ We want to be a team where there is respect and trust, where everybody plays together. There’s really no sense of relief or complacency. Until you finish the last play of the last game, there’s still another challenge out there.’’
A huge challenge.
“It seems like it’s the way it should be, the Florida team playing against the Alabama team,’’ Tebow said.
“These are the kind of games you remember for the rest of your life,’’ Alabama cornerback Javier Arenas said.
As Meyer said — with Saban undoubtedly concurring — “Hey, let’s go play.’’
It’s the game we’ve been anticipating since September. It’s only fitting that both teams are 12-0. It’s also perfect that we can pick right up from the intensity of last season’s matchup.
The SEC Championship Game stands alone as this season’s top contest.
Next month, they will also hold a BCS Championship Game. For the first time, it will be staged at the Rose Bowl stadium, a breathtaking backdrop and one of college football’s iconic venues.
That will be a good one.
But don’t be surprised if it’s a letdown from what occurs on Saturday afternoon in Atlanta.
Q: In the event Texas is upset by Nebraska, which undefeated team would give the Alabama-Florida winner the best game? Boise State, Cincinnati or TCU?
— Kevin Goodson from Ontario, Calif.
A: Given that scenario, I believe TCU would stage the best game against the Alabama-Florida winner, Kevin.
The Horned Frogs have a good enough defense to make it a tight, low-scoring game and who knows what might happen from there?
Cincinnati might make it entertaining for a while, but I can’t see the Bearcats shutting down the Gators or Crimson Tide.
Boise State? I don’t see the Broncos being in the Alabama-Florida league at all.
Q: Nebraska got any chance against Texas?
— Jerry from Michigan City, Ind.
A: Maybe a puncher’s chance, Jerry, but I still don’t see it. Texas is clearly the class of the Big 12 and I’m expecting Colt McCoy to shine again as he continues his Heisman Trophy mission. Nebraska is on the way back under coach Bo Pelini, but the Cornhuskers aren’t championship material just yet.
Q: What do you make of Lane Kiffin’s first season at Tennessee?
— Mike from St. Louis
A: It’s a mixed bag, Mike, but it’s a start. The Vols could move up to 8-5 with a victory in their bowl game — not bad after a sub-.500, non-bowl finish last season — and that’s something to build upon.
Kiffin definitely got noticed with his occasionally outrageous statements (by design, of course), and Tennessee is a relentless presence on the recruiting trail.
When you look back, the Vols were actually close to something pretty special, if you consider narrow losses against UCLA (19-15), Auburn (26-22) and Alabama (12-10). The Vols also played nose-to-nose at Florida (losing 23-13), a tribute to Kiffin’s dad Monte, the defensive coordinator who coached ‘em up perfectly to throttle the Tim Tebow-led Gators. And, of course, there were solid victories against Georgia (45-19, always an opponent on Tennessee’s radar) and South Carolina (31-13, Vols fans will never tire of beating Steve Spurrier).
Kiffin was brought in to change the culture and revitalize recruiting. He has done that. Look for the Vols to become SEC East contenders in 2010.